Botswana: Day 4 – Okavango Panhandle

The Okavango Panhandle is the main watercourse supplying water to the Okavango Delta.  It takes 4 to 6 months for the water, that falls as rain in the Angolan highlands in the north, to flow south along the Cubango River. It then flows through the Caprivi strip in Namibia.  When this great river enters Botswana it becomes known as the Okavango River.  The flood starts in April and usually peaks in August.  The water becomes trapped between two fault lines in Botswana and hence does not continue its journey and spill into the ocean as most rivers do.

Map of Okavango

On the morning of Sunday 10 June it was cold and crisp.  After a hot breakfast on board our houseboat, we piled into the aluminium boats for a speedy ride to meet our polers who were to take us for a trip on a mokoro or dug-out canoe.  If you ever visit Botswana in winter, make sure you take warm clothes, including beanies and gloves, as the temperature often drops below zero at night.

We arrived safely at Seronga where we climbed aboard a truck that would take us to the area where we were meeting our guides.

We stopped at a small village to pick up the young members of the local community who were to act as our guides and polers on the mokoro trip.

We disembarked from the truck that had taken us to Mbiroba Camp.

The Mbiroba Camp is a community project and employs 106 local people.

The mokoros are now made of fibre glass.

The old fashioned mokoros were made from Ebony or Sausage tees that were often 300 years old.  Conservationists convinced the community to use the fibre glass mokoros in order to save the trees in the delta.

Our young poler explained that in the days before fibre glass mokoros, this Ebony tree would probably have been cut down and turned into a mokoro.

Travelling in a mokoro is a silent, peaceful experience.  You are very close to nature as you glide along the channels between the reeds and papyrus.

Coenie and Tina were ahead of us.  We were all wearing warm jackets as it was cold on the waters of the delta.  We sat on small chairs that had no legs.  This was comfortable as we could lean against the back.

Murray and Juliet looked very comfortable in their mokoro.

We arrived at an island in the panhandle and were introduced to our guide called Technique.  It was a good name as he had the ability to pass on information in an interesting way.

This hole is made by an aardvark or antbear to get at the termites.  There can be up to 350 kg of termites in one heap.

Ant hills are used by the locals as a compass as they all lean or point west.  This is because the rains come mainly from the east in the delta and wash away some of the mud on one side.

Technique pointed out many interesting things such as this strangle fig that had killed its host tree.

This is a knob tree.  They have a much shorter lifespan than other hardwood trees in the delta.

On our return trip the water lilies had opened to make the most of the wintery sun.

Lilies and papyrus.

On our return trip we saw cattle wading in the waters of the delta.

We got back into the truck for the return trip to Seronga.  On the way back we passed some more villages.

We passed the Seronga Police station.  Our guides told us that they were keen soccer players and were playing a match against the police soccer team that afternoon.

We drove past the local school.  We boarded the aluminium boats and headed back to the houseboat moored in the panhandle.  We felt very priveleged to have met the young community members who were so keen to impart their knowledge to us.